Making your message stick

By Barry LaValley | November 2, 2009 | Last updated on November 2, 2009
2 min read

It doesn’t really matter whether you think you are brilliant if your clients don’t remember what you tell them. Your clients have to be engaged from beginning to end in your conversation and they have to remember what is in it for them long after the discussion has ended.

Clients must understand the needs that they have and the solutions you offer. They also have to use their fluid intelligence to process your information, connect the dots and recognize the value of your solution.

If your clients are going to make a decision to take your advice, they go through an internal process of matching your thoughts to a need that they have. We know that we have to present the benefit of the solution if the client is going to buy in or even listen. Simply put, a benefit is anything that you can provide your client that addresses their explicit needs.

Understanding client learning styles

The effective communicator focuses more on what the client needs rather than what the advisor can provide. That helps keep the client focused on the message and helps to flip a switch on in the client’s head that starts the fluid intelligence process and gets the client thinking.

However, just focusing on a client’s needs isn’t enough to ensure that you are getting through or made that connection with them.

Each client has a different learning style that dictates how likely they are to respond to the information that they are given. Every client has a protective wall around him or her of ‘crystallized thinking’ that has to be penetrated first. Think of it like finding the right door to go through to get inside the client’s head so that you can turn the light switch on.

The four basic learning styles are paths that will help you get past the crystallized thinking barrier. Most adults have a primary style that they respond to, supported by a secondary style. When presented with information in any other manner, the likelihood that they will “let you in” is hit-or-miss at best.

Title Description Client attributes Will respond to … Phrases a client might use…
Visual verbal Need to see information as well as to hear it. Tend to be logical, using written information to organize the words you say in their minds. Most are left-brain learners. Material that supports the overall message. For example, a piece of sales collateral that sums up the words that you are using. “Tell me word for word.” “I hear you but I am not sure I agree.” “Spell it out for me.”
Visual non-verbal Need to see pictures and images. Less likely to respond to left-brain information. Creates mental images in their right-brain. These are ‘right-brain’ learners who feel things more. Pictures and images that evoke emotion “I can’t quite picture it.” “Can you diagram this for me?” “Let’s look at this differently.” “Let me see how this will work for me.”
Auditory verbal Learn through conversation and dialogue; information presented in a verbal or oral manner. Benefit from dialogue and conversation. Tend to use a lot of “self-talk” to analyze information. Tapes, Podcasts, discussion groups, sharing ideas. “That sounds about right.” “I hear you.” “That’s music to my ears.”
Tactile Learn by touching, holding, participating. They will learn best if they can be physically active as part of the learning environment. Physical demonstrations, props that involve the client. “That feels right to me.” “My gut is telling me.” “I can’t get a grip on this.”

Taking a multi-dimensional approach to client communications

You shouldn’t be expected to quickly identify a client’s learning style on first meeting. Nevertheless, you should understand that not all clients respond in the same way. If you are going to maximize your effectiveness in getting through to a client, you want to make sure that you cover all of the bases with your communications methods.

When working with their advisors, clients will likely use one of the first three styles to process the information they are given. This doesn’t mean that advisors should ignore the tactile learning style: for example, when advisors use props or cards that the client can pick up and look at they are appealing to the tactile learner.

Here are some things to remember about appealing to the four learning styles:

  • The more that you can appeal emotionally to a client, the more likely you will relate to the visual-verbal, auditory-verbal and tactile. When you consider that three out of four learning styles are driven by an appeal to emotion, it makes good sense to bring emotion into your conversation.
  • Women tend to be more emotional in the way that they react to information than men, again supporting the idea that the visual-verbal approach is the least likely to resonate with couples.
  • The older your clients are, the more emotional they become. Again, by not appealing to the emotional needs of clients and accessing their right-brain you run the risk of not resonating with your maturing clients.

Learning styles and client retention of information

It is also important for the client to remember what you said even after the meeting is over or your presentation is done. The left-brain is the home of short-term memory while the right-brain is where long-term memory resides. You want your client to attach an emotional tag to your solution, your value proposition or your advice.

When you consider that much of the information that you provide a client is lost after just 24 hours, it makes sense to use your understanding of learning styles to increase your chances of having your message stick with the client.

A prominent study that has been around for several decades can still explain today how advisors who use a multi-dimensional approach to their client communications can actually increase the client’s retention of their information.

Client retention of information after 24 hours

Bethel Maine: National Training Institute, 1965

The above chart suggests that the more that a client can become engaged emotionally, the more they will retain later. In short, the more “sticky” the information will become.

Barry LaValley is President, LifeFirst Approach and is a communications consultant in the North American financial services industry. His specialty is examining how the aging process affects the way that clients think and act. Barry’s coaching programs can be accessed through his website or through the Ch.P. (Strategic Wealth) designation program offered by The Canadian Securities Institute.

Barry LaValley